Yesterday, Iraqi and Arab papers reported, the government started to show its teeth in Misan, with the arrest of several top officials in the province – all affiliated with the Sadrist Current, including (reportedly) the governor, his deputies and security heads. This shake-up will undoubtedly lead to additional tensions between the Maliki government and Muqtada’s followers, who may view the latest arrests as a breach of the “agreement” upon which the campaign was premised.
Iraqi and Arab papers disagree over the tally of the government raids. While al-Hayat affirmed (quoting security sources) that the governor was arrested along with ten of his bodyguards, Az-Zaman claimed that the governor “disappeared,” and that the raid on his house resulted in the arrest of 30 bodyguards, with no trace of the intended target. The Iraqi Security Forces, who announced the arrests, did not provide a reason for the apprehension of the officials.
However, Az-Zaman explained that the Iraqi Ministry of Interior is launching a parallel program to “restructure” the Police force in Misan, “after it was proven to be infiltrated by the ‘Special Groups’,” a term used to refer to armed Sadrist factions. In other terms, the government is attempting to retake the administration of the province after it eliminated its Sadrist officials. A process that is not likely to pass unchallenged.
While the offensive in Misan is mainly targeting Sadrists, Kull al-‘Iraq pointed out that some - in fact, one – of the people arrested belonged to the Badr organization, the militia of the pro-government SIIC (even in Sadrist-dominated areas, the government has been careful to include some of its ‘allies’ in highly-publicized arrests, as proof of its alleged “neutrality” in the security dossier.) The ex-Police Chief of Misan, ‘Ali al-Maliki, was also imprisoned and is, according to Interior Ministry, awaiting official charges.
The accusations against Maliki, however, seem to relate to corruption rather than criminal or security transgressions. According to Gen. Khalaf, large stockpiles of equipment were unaccounted for in the Misan Police inventory (including 18 vehicules, 30,000 Kalashnikov bullets and 45 heavy machine guns.) If ex-Police chief al-Maliki is deemed responsible for stealing these materials, Gen. Khalaf affirmed, “he will be tried and punished.”
In other news, the Diyali province (the alleged target of an upcoming campaign,) has been witnessing sharp tensions. Al-Hayat published a lengthy report on the province, where local families are experiencing – anew – a wave of forced displacements. The paper said that armed groups are distributing death threats to families in the province, demanding that they leave their homes within 24 hours, fearing massacres against their family members, many households are packing up and departing.
A major pro-government tribal leader in Diyali told the London-based daily that the security operations conducted in the province in the last year “did not achieve their full objectives,” and that the security situation remains volatile. Many of the death threats issued by armed groups are reportedly targeting pro-government tribes and tribal leaders, the paper added.
Similarly, Mosul, which witnessed a government campaign in May, remains unstable. Nineveh’s governor Duraid Kashumli announced that “the situation in the province is not the way we hoped for before ‘the Mother of Two Springs’ (the codename for the Nineveh campaign).” According to Kashmuli, armed groups that went underground during the campaign are now resurfacing and resuming their activities in the region. Even pro-government al-Mada, which spoke at length of the alleged successes of the Mosul campaign, came out with a telling headline: "Was (the Mosul campaign) a failure or a success?" The paper announced that the authorities have expressed "worries" over the development and are in the process of "revising" the security plans.
Lastly, al-Anbar province, whose security was to be handed over to Iraqi forces last week, has postponed the handover ceremonies until further notice. The original reason given for the postponement, last week, was “weather conditions” and an upcoming sandstorm. The head of the Dulaim clans in Anbar, a major government ally, affirmed that the US/Iraqi government version is untrue.
Sheikh ‘Ali al-Hatim told al-Hayat that the postponement of the handover was done upon the request of the local pro-government tribes, who believe that “a handover in this period will mean the return of terrorism to the province.” Al-Hatim explained that “most armed groups” have infiltrated the administration, including the provincial council. Domestic political disputes are also a factor: Al-Anbar is politically divided between the Islamic Party and the pro-government clans (leading the “Awakening” tribal militias,) and leaders such as al-Hatim fear that a security handover will allow the Islamic Party (which has considerable influence in the cabinet) to impose its control over the local administration.
Sheikh Hameed al-Hayis, a major “Awakening” leader, contradicted al-Hatim, affirming that the alleged sandstorm was the only reason for the handover delay, adding that Anbar is fully ready for the security transfer; and affirming – contra Sheikh ‘Ali al-Hatim – that the Awakening can provide the support needed to establish order in the Sunni province.